Just who or what is N.A.S.A? That’s a question bound to be asked by many, once they see lineup included on the group’s debut album, The Spirit Of Apollo. The album boasts guest appearances from: Kanye West, M.I.A., Santogold, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Kool Keith, Tom Waits, KRS-One, Jurassic 5, Z-Trip, DJ AM, Chuck D of Public Enemy, Del The Funky Homosapien, The Cool Kids, The Pharcyde, Sizzla, George Clinton, and at least half of the Wu-Tang Clan, among others. Just who are these guys that they can put together such an extensive (and expensive) guest list?
N.A.S.A. stands for North American South American, made up of two DJ/producers, one from each continent. Squeek E. Clean, aka Sam Spiegel, is brother to director Spike Jonez, however nepotism is not the reason for his success, as he has earned his stripes producing the Grammy nominated 2006 LP, Show Your Bones for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Meanwhile, DJ Zegon was a professional skater/deejay who by a chance meeting ended up as a member of million selling Brazilian rock-rap group Planet Hemp in the late 90’s. The N.A.S.A. project brings the two artists together, with the idea of crafting hip-hop songs built around Brazilian funk samples.
Compilation LP’s are a rare breed these days, and it’s been a while since we’ve seen something of this magnitude, so how does it hold up? On paper, given all of the parties involved, The Spirit Of Apollo should automatically be placed in the “can-do-no-wrong” category. Virtually everyone who appears on the record has a certified classic album (or three) on their resume, so naturally it would seem that this would be a recipe for success. However, the results are hit and miss.
When the album is good, it’s good. It starts off on the right note with “The People Tree”, as Chali 2na and Gifts Of Gab effortlessly flow over the funkiest of breaks, complete with hook from Talking Heads’ David Byrne and cuts from Z-Trip. This carries over into “Money”, also featuring Byrne and Z-Trip, as well as Chuck D and Seu Jorge offer their views on the root of all evil, of course over chopped Brazilian jazz. This combination of multi-genre artists works perfectly here, and in other places as well. What N.A.S.A. was going for is perfectly executed on the bluesy “Way Down”, where Barbie Hitch lends her smoky, sultry vocals, followed by RZA whom animates her pain with his own lyrical contribution. The same can be said for the more up-tempo “Strange Enough”, where a posthumous Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Fatlip compete over an otherwise run-of-the-mill track, but one brought to fruition by Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Karen O’s twangy hook. “Gifted” is another natural collaboration, as Kanye West flows over electro-space funk, as twin hipster goddesses Santogold and Lykke Li harmonize the hook.
But for as many moments of excellence contained herein, there’s a sub-par selection to match it. For instance, KRS-One and The Pharcyde’s “Hip-Hop” couldn’t be more generic, which is completely ironic for a trio of artists that are rapping about the lost art of classic boom bap. The same can be said for “N.A.S.A. Music”, a commercially tinged collabo featuring a tag team of Method Man and E-40, which doesn’t stand as a good entry into either artist’s respective catalog. Later, Kool Keith teams up with Tom Waits for “Spacious Thoughts”, but little chemistry is felt as both artist’s seem to be off doing their own thing, unaware of the other guy in the booth.
Much of the rest of the album isn’t bad, but not terribly ground breaking either. For such a groundbreaking record, “Whachadoin’” is hardly a stretch, as the Diplo posse of Santogold, M.I.A., and Spank Rock all collaborate together with predictable results. The same can be said for “Sambo Soul” which does little to reinvigorate the fading career of Del The Funky Homosapien, or the odd pairing of Ghostface, Scarface, The Cool Kids, and DJ AM on “The Mayor”.
Creating magic can’t be forced. Like pizza is good, chocolate is good, and so is sushi, but putting all three in a blender and expecting the best drink ever simply doesn’t work, even if Jesus is hitting “puree”. Without naming names, some of these guys’ time has clearly passed, not having a classic (or even good) record in the last five, ten, or twenty years, and unfortunately, that washed out sound of some of these aging artists rears it’s head on The Spirit Of Apollo. Huge dappers are due to the N.A.S.A. crew for creating such an ambitious project with so many of our all time favorite artists attached to it, despite the mixed results. – D.T. Swinga
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